Monday, April 11, 2011

Three Companions - Treasures and Magic Items

I have a certain reservation about the default experience system of B/X DnD. I don't like to give out massive boatloads of treasure in order to fuel the PC's in thire rise through the level charts. In playing my short little run through B/X DnD so far I corrected this in two ways. First off - I like to give out achievement based EXP. This throws sand in the face of certain OSR folks who have alternate theories on this issue. However, once the PC's have decided on a goal, I tend to give them an EXP award if they complete the goal. This isn't some DM driven story award carrot created to push the PC's into running down the linear path of the DM's pregen adventure. Instead, I will give EXP to players who create goals for themselves and then complete those goals. They make my job as a DM easier by "making decisions" and "engaging in teamwork to accomplish a goal" - things I like to see in my games because these things lead to fun. Another simple thing that I did to decrease the importance of treasure in PC experience gains was to multiply monster experience awards by 3x. I tend to maximize my monsters effectiveness in hampering the PC's as much as possible, so if the PC's actually defeat the monsters, I like to give them a good deal more exp for that creature than what is in the default rules for B/X. These two little changes make gold based EXP less important to leveling a PC.

Which is good because I am a stingy DM. I make my PC's work for their gold! My PC's in my PBEM castles and crusades Greyhawk campaign are near broke right now at 4th level. Some of them are complaining, but most of them are having a good time with the game and enjoy the challenge. Another interesting side effect of being a stingy DM, is you can let your PC's play to higher and higher levels without worrying about them entering into a run away power spiral. If you keep monty-haul treasure dumping on the PC's, at a certain point they have so much treasure and so many magical items, that there is really little left in the game world to go after. They are also so powerful that you have to come up with crazy stupid monsters to challenge them.

So anyway, with that lead up out of the way, let's talk about what I was planning on focusing on for this post! Treasure and magic items in the three companions!

I will start again with the Barrataria Games Companion Expansion books. There are a wide variety of magic potions and scrolls, which I tend to give out fairly frequently because I love magic items that have limited use. This allows your players to use them effectively but then eventually run out of their magic and be forced to go out adventuring for more. One particular scroll that I found interesting was the scroll of interrogation - it is pretty neat, and I don't remember seeing it before. There are some pretty neat wands, rods, and staves for wizards. And then there are some really cool oddball magic items such as Marvelous Pigments that allow an artist to draw out non magical inanimate items and then it becomes real! That is a pretty darn useful magic item! They didn't have much in the way of treasures described beyond the magic items - no art objects, or land titles, or strange artifacts, etc... Overall, I was pretty happy with their use of magic items. I have the Forgotten Realms adventures book which has the most amazing set of tables and descriptions for art objects and jewelry. If you have never seen this before it is worth checking out.

JB's B/X companion, started out with a treasure table built on the starting points from the B/X style game, and then added new magic items. He has a very brief section about gems and jewelry and then moves on to the magic items section. First off, I really did get some evil DM chuckles from JB's cursed items. I normally don't use many cursed items, but he has some real interesting cursed items in this book which make me think about changing that policy!!! One of my favorite items was the Tome of Utter Destruction, beyond its cool name, it sucks the reader into another dimension - and the GM gets to decide the fate of the character. Yeah, you can suck the PC into the Army of Darkness universe so they can go all BOOMSTICK on the population there. I also enjoyed the Dancing Hut which reminds us all of the walking huts from Baba Yaga and the witch in the Fafrd and Grey Mouser series.

Now we move to the Mentzer companion set which starts on page 43 of his DM's guide. Frank probably has the best non-magical treasure sections, having gem value tables with example gem names like amethst, carbuncle, and tristals and starstones! For his jewelry table he describes a variety of types of jewelry that the PC's could find such as leaf shapes, bracelets, crowns, scepters, etc... on page 48 he describes each of these types and what they would look like. I think that is nice for the beginner DM. Then we get into the magical items section. Most of these items seem to be from the AD&D manuals, but I can't cross-reference since my copies were destroyed years ago in a real life fire. I'll pull out examples of neat magical items that seem new to me or sound like they would be fun to use in the game. I like potions of Dreamspeech - this seems very Howardian - I can see the dark eyed wizard using this potion to interrogate the sleeping Queen of Aquilonia. Scrolls of shelter and spell catching are really neat! I like the idea of a wizard using scroll paper as a sheild against a spell and then behold, the spell is transcribed in glowing runes on the parchment with no detrimental effects to the defending wizard!!! Eggs of wonder are really cool and could be used to interesting effect. Also, Frank had two really cool sections on missile types, such as screaming missiles and speaking missiles - the final section is on special weapons and it has some table on how to make special magical weapons using tables similar to those found in the AD&D handbooks.

Anyway, there are a wide variety of magical items in these books for you to use. However, if you are a new DM to the game, remember my cautioning statement at the beginning of this post and be a little stingy. Make them work to gain and keep all the magic items they find. Also, I think you should always try to make the magical items be a personal and add little quirks to them to make them unique. For example, maybe a magical sword is non-magical on one particular night of the year. Or perhaps a +1 sword is +3 on the night of the full moon? Do some wacky things like that to keep your PC's interested otherwise, you will hear little sighs around the table when they figure out that it is "just another +2 sword" and NOT the SWORD OF OMENS.


  1. That's an excellent idea regarding awarding XP for player defined goals... I might start using that in my games, thanks!

  2. Yeah, I should talk more about that in a separate post - I've only been using it for a while, but I think it works really well so far.